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A new life during the coronavirus pandemic

Photo: TTodras Whitehill/IRC

Authored by Corey Rheingrover

The Zazai family of four arrived to the DC metro area in the middle of February 2020. An IRC staff-person picked them up at the airport and oriented them to their new home. Within the first few weeks, Diane, their IRC caseworker, taught them how to use public transportation, took them to the social security office to apply for their social security cards, accompanied them to two initial health screenings at the local health department and assisted them in obtaining public benefits that they were eligible for with the Department of Social Services. At the time, they had no idea of the struggles they would face from the upcoming coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs. Zazai was pregnant; and while she did not know exactly how far along she was, she knew her baby was coming very soon and that she did not receive adequate care while overseas. The family’s caseworker called around to numerous clinics in the area, but none were willing to take a new client already so far along in pregnancy. By the time their medical insurance became active, doctors were not scheduling patients in person anymore due to the coronavirus, let alone quickly accepting new patients. In the month of March, Mrs. Zazai had to go to the hospital for care more than five times. The first two times, Diane drove her there and helped show her how to enter the hospital and request interpretation. As the pandemic intensified and social distancing became necessary, the IRC began to order her free Uber rides to and from the hospital as needed (through a partnership between Uber and the IRC). Unfortunately, her husband was never allowed to accompany her due to the new social distancing protocols at hospitals. However, with the knowledge gained from Diane and her husband writing down her personal details to show hospital staff, she was able to navigate the hospital successfully each time. In late March, the Zazai family welcomed a new life into the world, a healthy baby girl named Ameena!

Two of the IRC’s community partners: Homes Not Borders and KindWorks provided baby supplies, household donations, books and toys (Homes Not Borders had also helped to furnish the family’s apartment before they arrived). Some donations (e.g. toys and books) served as an outlet for the family’s young children who had been cooped up for months due to the coronavirus. Other donations (household and kitchen supplies, toiletries etc.) not only helped the family save money but prevented them from visiting crowded stores.

The IRC has continued to assist the Zazai family with services into September. The youth team helped their daughter enroll into remote school for the first time. Other staff  made countless calls to various government agencies to successfully recover all their lost identity documents, assisted with the process of applying for the baby’s U.S. passport, provided information on how to access food donations and helped a member of the family navigate attending health appointments for an existing medical condition which was exacerbated by the pandemic. The IRC also applied and received funds from National Community Church and other sources to assist the family financially. Fortunately, through steady care, the health condition within the family has consistently improved in the most recent months and the IRC is helping the adult family members seek employment.

The Zazai family, including baby Ameena, are now settled into their new community. They are working closely with the IRC to establish their lives and enjoying their newfound freedoms.    

The IRC in Silver Spring is dedicated to helping those in need like the Zazai family persevere through unprecedented times. Please consider a donation to support our work.

Client names and photo have been substituted to maintain confidentiality